Medellin, Colombia Mayor Federico Gutiérrez says tourists who come to his city to “idolize” the late drug lord Pablo Escobar are not welcome.
“Whoever comes to our country to celebrate crime. we do not want them,” the mayor said Friday in Bucaramanga, where he is participating in the XXIII National Congress of Travel and Tourism Agencies.
“The drug mafia is the worst thing that ever happened to Medellin because it distorted values such as those of honest, hard work by emphasizing easy money made from crime and the suffering of innocent people,” he said.
Gutiérrez comments were aimed at the huge crowds that visit Escobar’s lavish estates, his childhood home in Medellin and his cemetery plot. So far in 2018, Medellin has received 470,000 foreign visitors and expects to close the year with 800,000, a 10 percent increase over 2017. According to tour operators, most tourists want to visit sites made famous by Escobar and his drug cartel.
The mayor and other city leaders have also attacked the growth of “cocaine tourism” promoted internationally over social media. By some estimates, five to 10 percent of tourists to Medellin come to buy and use cocaine that is priced as much as 90 percent below that in Europe and the U.S. “We don’t need these tourists either,” Gutiérrez said.
Cocaine tourism is concentrated in Medellin’s upscale neighborhoods, particularly El Poblado, according to officials who say that police have been bribed to ignore the practice or even participate in it.
Gutiérrez recently announced plans to tear down the home of Escobar and make the area a park dedicated to the victims of Escobar’s crimes. “We need to rmember those who died, not those who did the killing,” he says.
After years of decline, the murder rate is climbing again in Medellin, statistics show, and some fear a resurgence of Escobar-type drug violence. Some of the city’s poorer barrios are now controlled by criminal gangs, according to Insight Crime, an international organization that tracks criminal activity.
Earlier this year, Gutiérrez was forced to flee one Medellin neighborhood when gun shots were fired as his car.
“Medellin is particularly vulnerable to drug crime given its history,” an Insight Crime report said. “It is a shame that two decades of progress is now being reversed.”